Here's something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving-- I got the opportunity to interview Dennis Hopper, one of Hollywood's most famous Republicans, on the day he voted for Barack Obama. When we spoke on November 4 neither of us knew how the election would turn out, but of course, we had bigger things to discuss-- like Hopper's role in Elegy, the melancholy, lovely drama that came out over the summer starring Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, and Hopper.
In a movie about male libido, desires and fears of aging, Hopper's character embodies all three-- a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who believes in infidelity, pleasure and instant gratification. He encourages his friend (Kingsley) to pursue a relationship with a much younger woman (Cruz), but that relationship only serves to highlight doubts that both men have about aging.
Hopper doesn't seem to have any of those doubts -- at 72, he's happily married to a woman who was born the year he directed Easy Rider, and he's not even close to stopping. Not only is he still acting in films as well as the Starz series Crash, but he's continuing his career as a painter and photographer. We talked about all of it, as well as Barack Obama, in our exclusive interview.
You've been a Republican since Reagan, but you voted for Obama. Did people give you a hard time about making the switch?
I didn't see any of them marching with Martin Luther King. I can defend myself in those areas. Also this is America. Hopefully we do have two parties, even though there's a lot of bitter stuff going on.
So what made Elegy a project you couldn't resist?
Really, when they called me and said 'We have a part for you, [with] Sir Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz,' I didn't think much beyond that. It was such a wonderful little part. All of my scenes were really with Sir Ben. He's really so wonderful to work with, because he's so in the moment, he's so honest. It was really just a pleasure. And Isabel Coixet, she's just a marvelous director.
How was it working with a female director on a story that's largely about male aging and desires?
She was so great with Penelope though. [Isabel is] very quiet, and very reassuring and very positive. It's one of the nicest working experiences I've ever had.
Was there any opportunity for improvisation as you got to know your character? Did you relate to him on any personal level?
It was really written so well, there's no improvisation in it. I didn't really think about a lot of stuff, except I felt there was a possiblity I could have ben a college professor, I could have been a poet. It was more about staying in the scene and doing moment to moment reality with Sir Ben, which he does wonderfully well. Isabel gives us plenty of room to work and lets us do our thing.
You get a big death scene as well. Was that particularly challenging for you?
The idea of kissing Sir Ben was a stretch. They screened the movie here yesterday, and had a question and answer aftewards. They said 'What about kissing Sir Ben?' And I said, 'Well I felt it was too short.' It's such a strange death scene. I didn't think about it too much. We just did it.
This story deals with a relationship between a younger woman and an older man, and you're married to a woman substantially younger than you are. Do you see any parallels between your life and this movie?
Not really that I want to look at. I'm very happy with it myself. We've been together for a long time. I don't have any of the hang-ups.
Can you tell me about your Starz TV series, Crash?
I play a music mogul, like a Phil Spector, who takes drugs, has orgies, threatens people with knives and guns. It's a great part. [When I was offered the part] I was thinking about directing a movie.They said 'We have a series. We think you should really think about this, because it's a great part.' I was doing it three days later.
How is working on a TV series different from doing movies?
The difference between making a film and this is time. We do this in 7 days. At the same time you do the movie, and it's an hour and a half or two hours long, and this is like 13 hours. You get to get deeper into your character.
Do you think you would direct a film again?
I hope so, if I can figure out what my work schedule [will be like]. I love directing. I haven't directed a film in 16 years, and I would love to do that again. When you direct a film it encompasses all the arts as we do them.
How have you worked to balance doing independent movies and more broad studio fare?
It's always nice to work on something that you know is going to be distributed properly. Then again, some of the better scripts are independent. I've been mostly in independent films rather than big Hollywood pictures.